National law firm adds voice over IP capability to existing telephony

A large Canadian law firm with six offices across the country is using voice over IP to reduce the cost of calling between offices while keeping its existing private branch exchanges (PBXs).

Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, which has more than 670 lawyers, intellectual property agents and other professionals, installed its first Quintum Tenor VoIP box in August 2003. It has since decided to put Tenors in all of its offices, including Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver.

The law firm wanted to address the cost of inter-office calling and make it easier for users to contact one another. “A lot of the inter-office calls are not billable, so we’re paying for it,” said Steven Cornfield, IT manager of BLG Canada in Ottawa. As a law firm, it has billable codes, so for Cornfield to dial from Ottawa to Toronto, the number consists of 25 digits. With VoIP, that number can be reduced down to six digits.

Not using for mobile workers
This was also an opportunity to test the waters of VoIP technology, without requiring a forklift upgrade. “The VoIP gateways are really neat because the PBX and handsets are virtually untouched and ultimately the end-user experience does not change,” he said, adding the only change users have noticed is a slight difference in the quality of the line.

The law firm isn’t using VoIP for mobile workers at this point, or running any other applications over it. “We’re just running voice — we’re taking calls that would regularly go over the PSTN and putting them through the VoIP box,” said Cornfield.

Because VoIP is still a relatively new technology, he added, the telephone vendors responsible for maintaining the PBX systems in each of the offices weren’t experienced with it. This was further compounded by the fact BLG Canada has four completely different PBXs, including two Nortel boxes – one that is antiquated and one that is relatively new.

Quintum’s Tenor product has a feature called multi-pass technology that was used in this implementation, said Mike Bonyad, director of sales with ForeBase Corp. in Toronto. ForeBase has been a Quintum reseller since 2000, selling and implementing VoIP gateways for wholesale long-distance service providers as well as enterprises like BLG Canada. Multi-pass technology allows them to have a Tenor box sitting in front of their PBX system, regardless of the type, model or brand — and still be able to talk between locations.

“This kind of technology is still unique compared to other products, and it also saves the client extra cost because with any other similar product in the market, the client would have to have a dedicated line on the PBX system to be able to access the VoIP box,” said Bonyad. “The Tenor can have the same line that goes to the telco coming into the Tenor and going to the PBX, and the only thing that Tenor does is filter out that number.”

The law firm now has four Tenors in place and, at press time, was installing a fifth one in its Vancouver office. There were no capital costs aside from the VoIP boxes and installation services, said Cornfield, though they did run into some situations, specifically with the Nortel PBXs, where they had to get a PRI card.

“We could have managed to slice and dice up the PBX but it would take more time and resources,” he said. “We figured if we bought a PRI card and stuck it in the PBX it was much easier for the telephone vendor to configure it.”

VoIP still a moving target
Cornfield will be looking at the feasibility of a full-blown IP PBX system down the road, but that would be based upon the needs and requirements of the business. “Once you’re down that route, it does get rather expensive,” he said. “There’s a whole gamut of things you have to look at.” If the law firm does decide to go down that route, however, it will have a better understanding of the technology, he said, including some of the problems, like quality of service and latency issues.

“This allows us to familiarize ourselves with those issues without really impacting the business in a significant manner,” said Cornfield. If a box is unavailable or the Internet connection is down, for example, users can still make a phone call the old-fashioned way. “I still see [VoIP] as a moving target right now and it’s just reduced the risk for us.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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